Ra Ra Riot were part of the baroque pop boom of late 2007 and early 2008 that popularized acts like Vampire Weekend and The National, implementing the use of classical instruments and heartfelt songwriting. With the absence of Ra Ra Riot’s cellist, Alexandra Lawn, the band goes a new direction entirely, opting for sugary hooks and crunchy digital effects instead of their usual lush arrangements. Vocalist Wes Miles claims that this record came together during their time in the studio and many of these songs were made more spontaneously. Unfortunately for Ra Ra Riot and their new direction, Beta Love feels like an uncharacteristically hurried project.
The least abrasive moments on Beta Love are the ones that harken back to Ra Ra Riot’s core strength of writing pop melodies around melancholy strings and an enamored narrative. “Is It Too Much” simply sounds like a computer-generated version of a Ra Ra Riot track from the past. Beta Love’s self-titled single is a welcome combination of Ra Ra Riot’s catchy hook-writing and the futurism theme that obscures their charm on the rest of the record. “When I Dream” also maintains Ra Ra Riot’s original appeal mixed with electronic nuances that don’t overpower the track. Miles’ voice contains the same apologetic, youthful timbre that fans have become accustomed with. Sadly, other examples of prime Ra Ra Riot tracks are spliced with unimaginative and repetitive throwaways.
Beta Love not only fails as a synthpop or indie-tronic record but as a conceptual record focused around futurism. Lyrics like, “In this city of robot hearts/Ours were meant to beat” and “That’s why I need this binary mind/To forget how long it feels” seem to be part of a half-baked idea. Ra Ra Riot’s understanding of futuristic pop includes the preposterous falsetto and bass heavy “What I Do For U,” obnoxiously energetic “Binary Mind,” and “I Shut Off,” which seems to draw from the least appealing sounds of 80’s synth-pop. The record also lacks consistency, which weakens the theme overall. Sometimes there’re string instruments, sometimes Miles sings from the perspective of a downtrodden robot, and sometimes the drum-machine outshines everyone else on the track, and it leads to more confusion than anything. Overall, though, Beta Love is consistently awkward and shows a band unsuccessfully trying to explore a new sound.
Maybe Ra Ra Riot felt influenced by the electrified swagger they witness from touring with Passion Pit or compelled to emulate Miles’ side-project, Discovery, but this record is a disappointment overall. Beta Love takes the organic, honest moments that made The Rhumb Line and The Orchard great and replaces them with everything that’s killing indie-pop; dumbed-down technical ability, the use of bland and forgettable effects, and a frustrating amount of auto-tune. Even though each track is super-charged with energy and glitzy charisma, Beta Love is exceedingly depressing as a Ra Ra Riot fan because it lacks any semblance of originality.